What if people wanted to help you out at every turn?
What if you were miraculously offered the best seat, the last parking space, a big raise… extra consideration everywhere you went?
What if everyone around you smiled when you entered a room? What if they stood in line to hug you?
What if people wanted to follow your lead, even before they knew exactly where you were headed?
What one adjustment can cause all these positive outcomes?
Psychologist Robert Emmons, among others, conducted studies that show this one shift in orientation increases our energy, our emotional intelligence and our inclination to forgive while reducing depression, anxiety and loneliness.*
No, you can’t get it in pill form! What is it?
Gratitude! The magic ingredient is plain old, simple gratitude expressed consistently and with feeling.
In his book Everything Counts, Gary Ryan Blair echoes the powerful alchemy of gratitude, “There is a special kind of magic in the practice of showing gratitude. It raises our consciousness, recharges our energy, enhances our self-worth, and strengthens our spirit.” He goes on to write that he believes that “the one constant in a truly successful life is gratitude.” Not wealth, not recognition, not special skills or aptitudes, not higher education -- gratitude.
The practice of gratitude is two-fold:
- It’s looking for what’s good in my life each day rather than tallying up what’s not so good. This habit alone boosts both my peace of mind and my sense that I’m headed in a positive direction, despite the occasional pothole or “bridge-out-ahead” life events.
- It’s expressing gratitude for the people who go beyond expectations when I really need someone’s help. Best results come when I thank everyone, right down to the stranger who does no more than pass the salt, and all of those who perform every act of service in between, from common courtesies to selfless acts of great courage.
Behavioral scientists conclude that it takes a ratio of 4 messages of appreciation to 1 critical message for someone to believe that they get an equal amount of positive and negative reinforcement.* Doesn’t this mean that lifting someone up requires actually telling them about all the things they do and all the ways they are that enhance your life in ways both great and small? People who feel criticized and undervalued grow reticent to take on life with passion and abandon. People who feel celebrated and highly valued show courage and an eagerness to do more and be more.
Am I saying that we should never tell someone when we believe they’ve made a wrong turn or a bad decision?
No, but consider frontloading at least four times the praise and appreciation first. People hear your words much better when their emotional bank account is flush. The fun part is that we don’t have to wait for a strategic time to fill up that account. We can praise and celebrate all the time, and when good conscience demands that we propose someone change a behavior or reconsider an action, it’s perceived as assistance rather than attack. When someone thanks me frequently and specifically for what I contribute, their advice and their requests for a change just make me feel more valued and worthy. I matter enough for them to care if I stay on course.
Gratitude is my remedy when I’m stuck in lower emotions, like frustration over dysfunctional phone trees and website protections that block all access to completing a simple task, or I find myself trapped for what seems like hours in a traffic jam, or I receive news that someone I care about is seriously ill, or sleep wouldn’t come last night. Whatever is not right about the moment or the day, I can trust that when I’m ready to chronicle what’s right in my life, negative feelings gradually subside, and as Gary Ryan Blair puts it, simple gratitude “deflates the barriers to love” while “dissolving negative feelings -- anger and jealousy melt in its embrace, fear and defensiveness shrink.”
With regular cultivation of gratitude, I can confirm that both Lee and I have developed what Blair calls an ability to withstand life events like heart transplants, losing all our possessions in a catastrophic accident, the death of loved ones. We are growing our immunity to depression and resentment by the simple practice of pivoting to celebrate what’s good and right in people and in the world.
As Lee just said, “You know what I’m grateful for today? I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, for all the time I’ve spent reading and listening and re-associating in the service of becoming a more appreciative man, a better man.”
*reference: The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success by David E. Nielsen